August 29, 2013 by epaduani
“This was a mistake that proved to be extremely interesting.” For some reason this opening line to Jim’s description for this bread reminded me of the Grateful Dead lyric “What a long strange trip its been”. Maybe its the positive enthusiasm with which that lyric was sung by Jerry Garcia, or maybe I’m just crazy, but to me the two go together. Since most of cooking, or at least recipe creation, is trial and error, it isn’t that surprising that a “mistake” can turn out to be a positive experience. In this instance, Jim was “testing another version of the free-form loaf, turned the oven to 375° without my glasses on, and placed the loaf in the oven. I thought it was browning magnificently and then discovered I had turned the oven to “broil”. I immediately switched it to “bake”, but by this time I had a beautifully brown, crisp top crust and the loaf had risen. In the end the loaf tasted absolutely wonderful, and the upper crust was superb.” Well, who am I to argue with an experienced baker’s mistakes? I only wish my mistakes turned out wonderful…
Broiled White Free-Form Loaf [1 free-form loaf]
2 packages active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water (100° to 115°, approximately)
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse salt
3 tablespoons olive, vegetable, or peanut oil
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg white, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
I started out by dissolving the yeast in the warm water and letting it proof for a few minutes while I got my other ingredients out. In the mixing bowl of my stand mixer I combined the 4 cups of flour with the salt and then blended it well. Then it came time to add the yeast mixture to the flour. I had my little assistant, Isabella, helping me today and I asked her if she would like to pour the yeast mixture into the mixing bowl. Her eyes lit up and she had the biggest smile on her face…as she poured half of the yeast mixture onto the counter instead of into the mixing bowl. Lucky for her, that little smile of hers usually causes me to overlook the majority of her mistakes.
So as I was saying, I mixed the yeast mixture into the flour mixture and blended it together good. Then I added the oil (I used olive oil) and then, “gradually”, the buttermilk. I found the instruction to add the buttermilk “gradually” a bit odd as I wasn’t mixing or blending the buttermilk into the other ingredients, but I went ahead and did it anyway. Since I was using my stand mixer I set it on low and let it knead the dough for about 10 minutes. Then I took the dough out of the mixing bowl and formed it into a ball. I let Isabella finish off the ball and then we put the dough into our buttered flower bowl, rolled it around to get it covered in butter, covered it with a towel and set it on top of the stove to rise until “doubled in bulk”.
After 2 hours the dough had risen “enough” so I took it out of the flower bowl and put it on my lightly floured counter. I punched it down and kneaded it for about 3 minutes before putting it back in the bowl to rise “once more”. This second rising took roughly 2 hours as well. I took the dough from the bowl, punched it down and then formed it into a “big circular package”…or as big a circular package as I could with the dough. I brought the top together to close it, pinched the ends together to seal it and then turned it over and placed it on a baking sheet that I had dusted with cornmeal. I would now need to let it rise a third time until “doubled in bulk.”
One of the things that Jim said you could do with this bread was to sprinkle cornmeal “on the top for an extra accent.” I went ahead and did just that, because what is life without extra accent? I let the dough rise this third time for over 2 hours, yet it didn’t actually appear to “double in bulk”. However, since the bread was to be a part of our dinner tonight (cheddar beer soup…yum), I had to go ahead and put it in the oven. But first I made three slashes in the top with my knife and then brushed it with the egg wash (1 egg white, beaten with 1 tablespoon water). As the title suggest, this bread would at first be broiled. I set the oven to “Broil – Hi” since my oven doesn’t have a temperature setting for broil other than “Lo” and “Hi”. I looked online and “Hi” was around 400° so I set it at that since Jim said to broil at 375° for 20 minutes. As Jim had said in his intro, the bread had a “beautifully brown, crisp top crust” when the timer went off.
I switched the oven to “Bake” at 375° and set the timer for 25 minutes. It would be done when the loaf “sounds hollow when tapped with the knuckles.” I checked the bread when the timer went off and found that it sounded hollow enough so I removed it from the baking sheet and put it directly on the oven rack for a couple more minutes to “brown the bottom”. The loaf had stuck to the baking sheet on one side so I unfortunately lost a little bit of the bottom when taking it off the pan, but that shouldn’t matter to much as it is the bottom of the loaf. I tasted the bit that stuck to the pan and it was good. It had the nice “rustic” bread taste to it. After 4 minutes I took it out of the oven and set it on a rack to cool.
When I finally sliced into the bread, the first thing I noticed was that I definitely had an “upper crust”. Whether it was “superb” like Jim’s was will be left for debate, but I found it to be just past the point of “crusty”, leaning a little more towards “hard”. However, it wasn’t difficult to bite through, just cut through. The bread itself was chewier than I expected, though I’m not sure what caused me to expect anything as Jim had not mentioned anything about the texture of the bread. It would definitely fall in the category of a “rustic loaf” and its overall taste was quite fine. To me, it seems the perfect bread to have with a hearty soup like the Cheddar Beer Soup I made for dinner. Soup, bread and beer for dinner? Why yes indeed.